The truth of le printemps érables
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The truth of le printemps érables

There are only bodies and languages, except that there are also truths.

Alain Badiou, Logics of Worlds, 2006/20091

There certainly have been bodies and languages.

There have been young bodies and old bodies and bodies in between. Queer bodies and straight bodies. Bodies naked and masked.2 Bodies armed and armoured. Bodies moving in uncharted directions and bodies that refuse to move at all. Bodies arrested and molested. Able bodies and bodies dis-abled. Striking bodies and bodies that have been struck. The body of a panda.3 Bodies kettled and bodies separated from the pack (the easier to take them down). Bodies stepping lively into spaces where they have never been. Bodies poor and not-so-poor. Bodies with all kinds of skin. Ecstatic bodies and bodies in agony. Bodies bearing weight, not least the weight of their histories and futures. Bodies repeating for 115 days on the day I write this. Some bodies making their debuts.

And languages. Mostly French, but also English and every other language of Quebec, and a multiplicity of visual, sonic and haptic languages, besides. To live here (as to live anywhere) is to inhabit an endless field of linguistic translation, interpretation and contestation. Le printemps érable has been no exception in this regard.4 Among these contests is one over whether the phrase itself denotes a category mistake. Springs (the Arab, the Prague) bring relief from the dark winters of authoritarianism. They do not happen in modern liberal democracies such as Quebec, or Canada. Here, it is always already spring.

Is that true? If it is, what have all these bodies—hundreds of thousands of them—and all their languages been doing in the streets for all these days and nights? Trying to save a few hundred dollars in tuition fees? Is there no winter in this country? What is the truth of le printemps érable?

Let us not worry too much over the audacity of the question. In these times of beautifully heterogeneous bodies and languages, Badiou invites us to think about thinking about truth again, and about politics as one of its procedures.5 “Truths,” Badiou writes, “exist as exceptions to what there is.”6 It is far from clear that we Quebecers are in the midst of a political event in the demanding sense Badiou attributes to this category, and it probably will not be clear for a long time. Still, we might be forgiven for wondering aloud whether what has been happening here comprises an “exception to what there is” and, if it does, to ask in what this exception consists.

As Lauren Berlant wryly observes, “However steadfast one’s commitment to truth, there is no avoiding the noise.”7 The nightly, clamorous manifs casseroles that arose in a flash to contest the Quebec government’s loi speciale (Law 78 has banned spontaneous assemblies of more than fifty people and imposed punitive restrictions on the organization of political action more generally) have been genuinely remarkable.8 Repeated, open, mass civil disobedience by thousands of citizens is far from business as usual in contemporary Canada, even in Montreal, a city with a long history of radical political activism and collective, public noise-making. “Democracy and noise go hand in hand,” Davide Panagia writes, “there has never been a quiet democratic movement, like there has never been a peaceful democratic uprising.”9 Many have experienced the manifs casseroles as noisy sites in which neoliberalism’s devastating effects on political and community engagement are giving way to a resurgence of the democratic spirit.10 None who have marched and banged a pot in these latter-day charivaris could deny the thrill of what Berlant calls “the affect of feeling political together.”11 As noted historian of sound and Montrealer Jonathan Sterne has put it: “Rhythmic participation in the casseroles is a kind of political involvement.”12

But what kind?

The manifs casseroles have been an unexpected occasion for political engagement and resistance by a wide range of everyday people who do not customarily find themselves in the streets objecting to their government. They materialize a similarly broad range of grievances and...